Naskh or Abrogation of Verses

Chapter No.: 

Literal meaning of Naskh: Abrogation, replacement of one thing by another thing.

Technical meaning: Lifting of law of Shari’ah by the reasons of Shari’ah.

Naasikh: That Ayat of the Qur’an which abrogates either recitation or command or both of some other Ayat of the Qur’an.

Mansookh: That Ayat of the Qur’an which is abrogated.

Al-Qur’an says:

“None of Our revelations do we abrogate or cancel to be forgotton, but We substitute something better or similar. Knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things.” (2:106)

Occasion of Descent or Shaan-e-Nuzool of these Verses:

Enemies of Islam particularly Jews were raising objections about the Qur’an by saying that Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) was a strange person that one day he commands Muslims to do a thing and the other day he changes the same commandment with another one, so it is not the word of Allah as that has to be eternal and unchanging.

Let’s discuss this problem of Naskh in some detail. It is one of the delicate discussions regarding the Uloom-ul-Qur’an. Naskh literally means abrogation or replacement of one thing by another. In Shari’ah it means that when the Qur’an came with some commandment, people thought that commandment was forever but in actual sense since Allah - being All-knowing and All-powerful sent a particular commandment for a time being and not forever, so He later sent another commandment, abrogating or modifying the earlier commandment. This is a change as we look at it and it is not a change at all as regards to Allah, as He had sent the earlier commandment for a limited time only and not forever, therefore, in no way a defect in the eternal nature of the Qur’an. It is similar to a government’s way of enacting a law and implementing the same part wise over a period of years.

Here the Qur’an uses the word abrogation of ‘Ayat’. The word ‘Ayat’ in addition to verse of the Qur’an also means a sign in the nature or history or a miracle. If we take this meaning then there is no confusion. These verses will then mean that Allah Ta’ala brings forth different signs and miracles from time to time to prove the truthfulness of – the Islam, the Qur’an and the Prophet-hood of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). Some Ulema like Abu Muslim Asfahani think that by these Ayats abrogation of previous Shari’ats like Shari’ah of Ibrahim (AS), Dawood (AS), Musa (AS), Eisa (AS) is implied. If this meaning is taken, then again there is no controversy, as everyone agrees that Al-Qur’an has abrogated all previous Shari’ats.

The question under discussion, in which people have different opinions, is that whether some Qur’anic verses have been abrogated by the other Qur’anic verses or not? There is consensus amongst Ulema of Ahl-Sunnah Wal Jama’at that some Qur’anic verses have been abrogated by some other Qur’anic verses either in recitation or command or both. Here we have to understand that as to what things have been changed? Has this change occurred in beliefs - that one day the Qur’an said Allah is one and next day it said, no there are many gods (Naoodh-billah), or has there been a change in narrations of incidents of past that it has narrated the incident of Nuh (AS) in one way and then after sometime the other way. We have to understand that the Qur’anic teachings as regards to beliefs, history or predictions have been consistent. Then what is the change, which is being discussed? The Qur’an has been gradual in changing the society and in that course it has revealed the commands about the improvement of social values in a gradual manner. It is this thing that is termed as Naskh or change or abrogation all about.

Step-wise Ban on Wine:

The Qur’an banned wine in three stages. To drink was in the blood of the Arabs. They were used to it since ages, and to ban it in one step was not convenient for them. The Qur’an first mentioned the evil effects of wine, then asked the Muslims to refrain from it while going for Salah and finally it was banned totally for all times to come. Allah Ta’ala says in Al-Qur’an:

يَمْحُو اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَيُثْبِتُ وَعِنْدَهُ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ

“Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth; with Him is the Mother of the Book” (13:39)

وَإِذَا بَدَّلْنَا آيَةً مَكَانَ آيَةٍ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يُنَزِّلُ

“When We substitute one revelation for another, and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages).” (16:101)

Naskh in Previous Shari’ats:

1. It is mentioned in Torah that Allah Ta’ala told Hadhrat Nuh (AS) when he came out of the ship after the Great Flood that He has made every living animal Halal (permissible for eating) for him and his progeny. Then Allah Ta’ala forbade eating many of these animals in the subsequent Shari’ats like that of Hadhrat Yaqoob (AS), Hadhrat Musa (AS) and Hadhrat Eisa (AS) etc.

2. It is mentioned in Torah that Allah Ta’ala asked Hadhrat Adam (AS) that he should marry his daughters to his sons. In each pregnancy Eve (AS) would give birth to a boy and a girl. Girl born in one pregnancy was married to the boy born in another pregnancy and vice versa. This was banned in subsequent Shari’ats.

3. Allah Ta’ala asked Hadhrat Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his son then this command was abrogated.

4. Worldly affairs and hunting is permissible in all days including Saturdays but it was banned on Saturdays in the Shari’ah of Hadhrat Musa (AS).

5. It was permissible in the Shari’ah of Hadhrat Yaqoob (AS) for a man to marry two sisters at the same time, later it was banned in the Shari’ah of Hadhrat Musa (AS).

6. Talaq or divorce was permissible in the Shari’ah of Hadhrat Musa (AS), but it was allowed in the Shari’ah of Hadhrat Eisa (AS) only when the offence of adultery would be proved against the women. Without proving this charge, it was not allowed to them. (Manahil-ul-Irfan)

Naskh in the Qur’an

1. Naskh of Both Recitation as well as Commandment:

There is consensus amongst the Ulema of Ahle-Sunnah-Wal_Jam’at that there have been some verses of the Qur’an whose reci­tation as well as commandment have been abrogated. These verses were even lifted from the memory centers of Sahaabah (RA). Muslim has reported on the authority of Hadhrat Ayesha (RA), she says,

“There was an Ayat in the Qur’an in which it was mentioned that a boy is Haram (in marriage) to a girl if he has sucked breast of the mother of that girl for ten known times during his breast feeding period in infancy. Afterwards this commandment was abrogated and it was replaced by five time suckling instead of ten. Finally both recitation as well as commandment of these verses was totally lifted and abrogated as per the majority of Ulema except Imam Shafaee who says that recitation of this Ayat has been abrogated but its second command, i.e. five time suckl­ing by a baby makes him/her haram for the children of that women still persists.

This Hadith of Hadhrat Ayseha (RA) is also quoted by Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi and Dhari-Qutni in addition to Muslim Shareef.

2. Naskh of Recitation but not of Commandment:

Abu Dawood, Ibne Majah, Musnad Ahmad, Rooh-ul-M’aani, Imam Raazi in his Tafseer Kabeer and Imam Nawawi in his commentary on Muslim Shareef quote on the authority of Hadhrat Umar (RA) that following verse was a verse of the Qur’an which was later on abro­gated.

ؤ الشيخوخة إذا زينا فارجموهما الشيخ

“When an old man and old women will commit adultery, stone (Rajam) both to death ”

Its recitation has been abrogated but its command still persists. Imam Shafaee (RA) here also differs from others and he says that this narration is Dhaeef (weak). For details consult the books on Fiqh or jurisprudence.

Can We Call These Verses - the Qur’an?

Answer is no, we cannot call them Al-Qur’an, for Al-Qur’an - Tawatur or continuity is must. As you know Al-Qur’an is defined as:

إنّه الكلام المعجز المنزل على النبي . ألمكتوب في المصاحف ألمنقول بالتواتر ألمتلو بتلاوته

“- It is the miraculous word of Allah, - revealed on the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), - written on Mus-haf, - passed on from generation to generation with Tawatur, - the recitation of which is an act of worship”.

What is meant by Tawatur?

Tawatur means something that is passed on in such a way that in each generation its narrators are countlessly numerous, and logically it be impossible for so many people living in different parts of the world to get united for telling a tell. For a verse to be part of Al-Qur’an, this Tawatur is must. Only those verses of the Qur’an which have come to us from Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) by Tawatur are recited as the Qur’an. Some of the verses, which were revealed to Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and Sahabah used to recite them were later lifted from their memory. Bukhari, Muslim, Trimidhi, Dhari-Qutni and Ahmad-b-Hambal quote a Sahabi namely Abu Musa Asha’ri (RA) who says that he used to recite a lengthy Surah, as long as Surah Tobah, but it was lifted from his memory and he remembered only the following verse from that Surah, viz;

لو كان لابن آدم واديان في مال لابتغى واديا ثالثا و لا يملا جوف ابن آدم إلا التراب

These abrogated verses were totally lifted from the memory of Sahabah and the Qur’an was completed and recited to Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) by Hadhrat Jibraael (AS) during the last Ramadhan of Rasulullah’s (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) life. It was this final shape of the Qur’an that is protected by Allah and has reached to us by Tawatur without undergoing any change even equal to an iota. Now the question arises as to what is the status of these abrogated verses which have reached us not by Tawatur but by one or two narrations from those verses that are preserved and have reached us by Tawatur in the shape of Al-Qur’an?

Answer: One thing is clear that these verses are not part of the Qur’an as they have not been transmitted by Tawatur. Ulema treat them as traditions called Khabr-e-Wahid.

3. Naskh of command and not recitation:

“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, they have to feed a Miskeen” (2:184)

This Ayat of Al-Qur’an has been abrogated by following Ayat of the Qur’an.

فَمَنْ شَهِدَ مِنْكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ

“So whoever of you sights (the crescent) the month (of Ramadhan i.e., is present at home), he must observe fast.” (2:185)

Number 02,

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ إِنْ تَرَكَ خَيْرًا الْوَصِيَّةُ لِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ حَ‍قًّا عَلَى الْمُتَّقِينَ

“It prescribed for you, when death approaches any of you, if he leaves wealth, that he makes a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable manners. (this is) a duty upon al-Muttaqun (the pious).” (2:180)

This Ayat is abrogated by following ayat of Al-Qur’an.

يُوصِيكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي أَوْلَادِكُمْ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الْأُنْثَيَيْنِ...

“Allah commands you are regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females….” (4:11)

Number 03,

إِنْ يَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ عِشْرُونَ صَابِرُونَ...

“If there are twenty steadfast persons amongst you, they will overcome two hundreds…” (8:65)

This Ayat of the Qur’an is abrogated by the following Ayat of the Qur­’an.

الْآنَ خَفَّفَ اللَّهُ عَنْكُمْ وَعَلِمَ أَنَّ فِيكُمْ ضَعْفًا فَإِنْ يَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ مِائَةٌ صَابِرَةٌ يَغْلِبُوا مِائَتَيْنِ....

“Now Allah has lightened your (task), for He knows that there is weakness in you. So if there are of you a hundred steadfast persons, they shall over come two hundreds…..” (8:66)

Number 04,

يَحِلُّ لَكَ النِّسَاءُ مِنْ بَعْدُ

“It is not lawful for you (to marry other) women after this, …..” (33:52)

This Ayat is abrogated by following Ayat:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَحْلَلْنَا لَكَ أَزْوَاجَكَ اللَّاتِي

“O Prophet (Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam))! Verily We have made lawful to you your wives, to whom you have paid their Mahr…” (33:52)

Number 05,

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نَاجَيْتُمُ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدِّمُوا

“O you who believe! When you (want to) consult the Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) in private …” (58:12)

This Ayat is abrogated by:

أَأَشْفَقْتُمْ أَنْ تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ نَجْوَاكُمْ صَدَقَاتٍ

“Are you afraid of spending in charity before you private consultation (with him)?...” (58:13)

The issue of abrogation has been taken differently by the an­cient and modern scholars; the two have differed in its terminology as well. The ancient scholars used it more widely. When any injunction which was first stated in general form, and afterwards on some other occasion was particularised, or when something in the beginning was expressed summarily and later on in details, then, from the linguistic point of view it was said that the later has abrogated the former. This actually was the meaning which an­cient scholars gave to the word ‘abrogation’. The abrogation of this kind exists in the Qur’an; for example, the Makkan chapters generally mention the universals and principles and the chapters revealed in Madinah discuss them in detail and also give comments as well.

On account of this difference among the commentators about the significance of the term ‘Naskh’ (abrogation), the number of abrogated verses rose considerably. Imam Suyuti, however, after affecting a suitable reduction brought them to nineteen only. But Shah Waliyullah Muhaddith Delhvi (RA) has provided solution for four­teen of them and he considers only five as abrogated, out of which four have been mentioned above.

Naskh of the Qur’an by Sunnah:

We have seen that there is consensus amongst the Ulema about the Naskh of the Qur’an by the Qur’an but there is controversy amongst the learned scholars of Islam that whether the Qur’an can be abrogated by Hadith or Sunnah. Imam Maalik (RA), Imam Abu Haniefa (RA) and his school of thought and majority of Muhadditheen agree that Naskh of the Qur’an by Sunnah is permissible as whatever Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) says is also from WAHY called WAHY-Gair-Matloo.

On the other hand Imam Shafaee (RA), Imam Ahmad (RA) and some others do not agree to the fact that Sunnah (or Hadith) can abrogate the Qur’an. According to them Qur’an can be abrogated only by Qur’an itself.